Iowa doctor initiates court challenge of medical board’s disciplinary process

By: - November 3, 2021 8:00 am

A Wright County doctor is suing the Iowa Board of Medicine for disciplinary action it took in response to him surrendering his license in Minnesota. (Photo by Online Marketing via Unsplash)

A Wright County doctor is suing the Iowa Board of Medicine for disciplinary action it took in response to him surrendering his license in Minnesota.

The lawsuit brought by Dr. Dennis Colby, 66, alleges that earlier this year he voluntarily surrendered his medical license in Minnesota, where he had not practiced for 27 years while working as a family-practice physician at the Iowa Specialty Clinic in Belmond, Iowa.

Colby claims the Iowa Board of Medicine subsequently imposed sanctions against him based on “the mere surrender of his license to practice medicine in the state of Minnesota,” even though Minnesota authorities had not imposed any sanctions against him.

The case could have major implications for the oversight of Iowa physicians because the Iowa Board of Medicine often imposes discipline based on the actions taken against doctors by other states. In some cases, Iowa-practicing physicians will agree to surrender their licenses in other states simply to resolve any disputes and bring the out-of-state investigations to a halt while continuing to work in Iowa.

In his lawsuit, Colby acknowledges that the Minnesota licensing board publicly stated that it might continue its own “investigation” into his practices should he ever decide to apply for reinstatement of his Minnesota license.

As part of his lawsuit, Colby is asking that a district court judge set aside the Iowa board’s recent order restricting his practices, order the board to refund the civil penalty he has paid, and fully reinstate his license to practice medicine in Iowa.

The Iowa Board of Medicine has yet to respond to the lawsuit, but it has stated publicly that “it is undisputed that Minnesota received a complaint regarding (Colby’s) medical practice and initiated an investigation. It is also undisputed the investigation was closed upon the issuance of a stipulation and order for voluntary surrender of (Colby’s) license on Jan. 9, 2021. The only issue in dispute in this matter is whether said order constitutes ‘disciplinary action.’ ”

In deciding that the surrender of Colby’s Minnesota license constitutes “disciplinary action,” the Iowa board pointed to a past Iowa Court of Appeals ruling on that point.

The issues with Colby date back to 2018, when the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice received a complaint alleging he was prescribing certain medications in a dangerous manner. An additional complaint was received by the Minnesota board in early 2019, alleging Colby violated certain regulations as a medical examiner, and that his employer had “evaluated him for risk” in 12 separate patient cases.

According to the Iowa board, Minnesota’s investigation of those complaints uncovered concerns with Colby’s patient care, his documentation and his prescribing practices. The Iowa board says Colby then submitted to a clinical-skills evaluation that revealed deficits in the areas of knowledge, reasoning, judgment, documentation and communication.

Based on that, the Iowa board voted in September to fine Colby $2,500 and prohibit him from prescribing or administering controlled substances. The board also placed Colby’s license on probation for three years. It is those sanctions that Colby is now challenging in Polk County District Court.

Iowa Board of Medicine records indicate Colby has had other issues with licensing boards. In 2016, the Iowa board issued Colby a letter of warning regarding a failure to appropriately diagnose a patient. In 2019, the Wisconsin board issued Colby a reprimand for failure to comply with continuing medical education audit requirements.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing.